ABOVE: Did US airstrikes play a key part in breaking the Islamic State siege of Amirli?
BAGHDAD – Aid began to flow to a small northern Shiite town in Iraq on Monday, a day after security forces backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes broke a two-month siege by Sunni militants.
Ali al-Bayati, who heads local NGO the Turkmen Saving Foundation, said that four trucks loaded with foodstuffs, medicine and fruit had entered the town of Amirli. The aid was sent by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Red Crescent, he said, adding that soldiers had begun bringing food to families in their houses Sunday night.
“The situation is getting back to normal, but gradually,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press. “Some people have come out from their houses and walk in the street. Shops are still closed, but people are happy to see their city secured by Iraqi security forces,” he added.
Since early this year, Iraq has faced a growing Sunni insurgency led by an al-Qaida-breakaway group, the Islamic State, and allied militants have taken over territory in the country’s north and west. The crisis is Iraq’s worst since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.
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The blitz stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the Islamic State in June overran the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as small towns and villages on their path.
Since then, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias have been fighting the militants without achieving significant progress on the ground.
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On Sunday, the forces managed to break a two-month siege imposed by the militants on Amirli, where about 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded.
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Thousands of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias have answered a call by Iraq-based Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to join government forces in the fight against the Sunni insurgents.
The U.S. airstrikes that helped liberate Amirli were the first to hit areas where the Iranian-backed militias fought Sunni militants, possibly outlining an unlikely alliance between the U.S. and Shiite militiamen who once fought American soldiers in Iraq.
It also means the strikes supported forces backed by Iran, whose Revolutionary Guard military advisers have been guiding Shiite militiamen in artillery attacks on Sunni positions.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has carried out at least 120 airstrikes with aircraft and unmanned drones. It has focused on areas bordering the self-ruled northern Kurdish region where Kurdish forces have been fighting the militants.
Also Monday, the United Nations said that at least 1,420 Iraqis were reported killed in violence in August, down from the previous month.
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The U.N. mission to Iraq, known as UNAMI, said in its monthly statement that the death toll includes 1,265 civilians and 155 members of Iraq’s security forces. It added that 1,370 were wounded, including 1,198 civilians.
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July’s death toll stood at 1,737 people. In June, 2,400 were killed as Sunni militants swept across the country, the highest figure since at least April 2005.
The statement said the figures are the “absolute minimum” number of casualties and they do not include deaths in the western Anbar province or other parts of northern Iraq that have been held by militants for months. It added: “The actual figures could be significantly higher.”
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed from Baghdad.